State’s deal to deliver COVID-19 test kits falls apart as supplier backs out

reporter photo

State officials told the public Thursday a broker who had promised millions of at home COVID-19 test kits had misrepresented their availability despite the state having a purchase order and a contract.

“We were shown pictures,” said Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health. “We were told aircraft was loaded. These were misrepresentations to us.”

Juthani and Gov. Ned Lamont tried to reassure the public that the state would continue its search for the test kits which have skyrocketed in demand this holiday week. The kits may be available as soon as several days from now. 

“Bear with us while we scour the globe,” Lamont said. “I think we got a little ahead of ourselves to tell you the truth. We all thought the tests were in the plane,” Lamont said. “I think in hindsight we probably should have said off the record, you may be able to plan for this, but we can’t announce this yet.”

State officials had the difficult job Wednesday of telling 169 municipalities that the kits had been delayed after many of them had quickly devised distribution plans. 

House Republican leader Vincent Candelora sharply criticized the administration.

“The entire state of Connecticut was misled by the governor’s office on Monday at a time when information and data is critical. At this point, we need to trust, but verify, everything that comes out of that office.,’' Candelora told The Hartford Courant. “Apparently now, the gig is up.’’

“To hold a teleconference yesterday and telling everybody that they’re delayed in shipping is potentially an outright fabrication. I’m guarding my comments right now. But if, in fact, the state of Connecticut never had a contract for these test kits and mislead the entire state of Connecticut, they really have some explaining to do,’' he said.

‘We wanted confirmation’

But while many towns and cities had to cancel plans for Thursday and Friday, some mayors held off on announcing plans and opted to wait until the kits were in the state. 

Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. was among those who held back on any public announcement. 

“As soon we were aware they were being shipped from out of state any timetable becomes suspect,” Dickinson said.  “We don’t have those shipping details, plus weather details. We don’t like to issue several different messages on one event. It can cause confusion.”

Dickinson met with Wallingford Health Director Stephen Civitelli and head of Emergency Services Joe Czentnar and police soon after Lamont announced Monday that test kits would be available prior to New Year’s Eve. They outlined a distribution plan but there were many variables involved, including that the kits still had to be flown to Bradley International Airport and delivered. 

 “We discussed what we were going to do,”  Dickinson said. “But we couldn’t put any finishing touches on it. We wanted confirmation that the test kits were in North Haven.”

Other municipal leaders crafted detailed distribution plans for Thursday and Friday that had to be scrapped when state officials announced delivery was delayed and the kits were still on the West Coast. 

The goal was to get much needed test kits in the hands of people before New Year’s Eve celebrations. Instead, Lamont announced millions of masks available for distribution and called on people to be careful on New Year’s Eve. 

Shifting events

Meriden had a distribution plan in place that involved workers from the city’s police, fire, public health and public works departments. 

Next time, the city will do things differently, said Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who said the biggest challenge was anticipating the volume of cars and people who would turn out. 

“It will allow us more time to plan,” Scarpati said about the delay. “We reacted very quickly to allow for distribution within 72 hours.”

Without knowing when the test kits will eventually be distributed, Scarpati said the city’s plan will be significantly different next time. The city will probably change the location from Mill Street downtown, and possibly add another location. The hours would also change to accommodate working people. But the delayed shipment is just another example of shifting events during the pandemic, Scarpati said. 

“Each municipality could have held off,” Scarpati said. “That’s what we’re going to do for this next round. It’s no one person’s fault. This is par for the course with COVID. It’s been going on since March of 2020.” 

Meriden’s Health and Human Services Director Lea Crown agreed that one of the important lessons learned with COVID-19 is the need for flexibility. The biggest challenge to setting up a quick distribution effort was communicating the city’s plan during a holiday week when many staff are out of the office. 

“We were asked to get them out as quickly as possible since the test kits were a short term solution to curbing the spread of COVID-19 around the holidays,” Crown said in an email.  “As soon as the distribution was announced on Monday, Meriden's team of Police, Fire, Health, Public Works, and Parks starting putting plans into place in anticipation of an early morning Thursday delivery and mid-Thursday distribution.”

Southington had planned a two-day distribution event on Thursday and Friday that was canceled. 

“If we are forced to cancel tomorrow’s event we will reschedule as soon as the state can clearly confirm when our allotment will take place,” according to a statement from the town of Southington. 

Residents are asked to monitor the city and town websites and social media pages for updates on mask distribution and test-kit distribution.


More From This Section